Skip to comments.The GE Years: What Made Reagan Reagan [Newt said this book explained Ronald Reagan's leadership]
Posted on 01/26/2012 4:48:31 AM PST by Cincinatus' Wife
After Novembers elections, Senator John McCain, former Congressman Dick Armey and others called for a return to the principles and policies of Ronald Reagan. At the time these policies were first advanced, many observers believed they constituted a revolution. But how did Reagan himself come to these views and where did he learn to translate them from one mans vision into governmental policies and acts?
In my book, The Education of Ronald Reagan: The General Electric Years and the Untold Story of his Conversion to Conservatism, I trace Reagans evolution from liberal to conservative, from actor to politician. The changes took place during the time when he served as host of the General Electric Theater on television. His contract also called for him to spend a quarter of his eight years (1954-1962) with the company touring the forty states and 139 plants of GEs far-flung decentralized corporate domain, addressing 250,000 employees and their neighbors.
When he joined GE in 1954, Reagan was a Democrat and a self-described New Dealer to the core. One of the early photos in the book shows him at the White House the Truman White House -- where he was thanked by the president for his strong support in the 1948 election. He had been a leader and organizer of Californias Labor for Truman. He was then serving as president of the Screen Actors Guild, which opposed Right-to-Work laws. Two years later, he supported Democrat Helen Gahagan Douglas in her U. S. Senate contest against Republican Richard Nixon. In 1952, he backed the Republican candidate for president, but as a Democrat for Eisenhower.
However, on October 27, 1964, two years after he had left GE, Reagan delivered a nationally-televised speech in support of conservative Barry Goldwater, the Republican candidate for president. Supporters and critics alike thereafter referred to Reagans remarks as The Speech. The dean of the Washington press corps referred to it as the most successful political debut since William Jennings Bryans Cross of Gold speech in 1896. In 1966, Reagan was elected governor of California.
As Reagan later commented, he had been giving The Speech for years, in a variety of versions, in his role as GEs Traveling Ambassador. But Reagan learned more in his GE years than a set of prepared remarks. He became familiar with such diverse thinkers as von Mises, Lenin, Hayek, and the Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu. He read and reread the practical economics of Henry Hazlitt. He quoted Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton. He observed GEs vice president Lemuel Boulware, whom many leaders in corporate America regarded as the most successful labor negotiator of all time, and Reagan himself sharpened his negotiating skills during this period when he served another term as president of the Screen Actors Guild. (An intriguing aspect of this process occurred in 1960, when Boulware was urging GEs workers not to strike at the same time as Reagan, as SAG president again, took his members out on strike against the Hollywood producers. Incredibly, the situation worked out for the benefit of both GE and SAG.)
As one of Reagans traveling aides pointed out, This was the period that brought into being Lemuel Ricketts Boulware. When the nation was paralyzed by a seventeen-week strike in 1946, in which almost all of the countrys corporations were brought to their knees, the 16,000 workers who produced annual revenues of $150 million for the GE subsidiaries which did not use the corporations name (e.g. Hotpoint and Carboloy), did not go on strike at all. They were managed by GE vice president Boulware. As a result, Boulware was placed in charge of all of GEs labor, public and community relations.
In 1947, flushed with success of the national strike, Walter Reuther, leader of the United Auto Workers, proclaimed that unions can no longer operate as narrow pressure groups concerned with their own selfish interests. Trade unionism, he maintained, must now lead the fight for the welfare of the whole community. The gauntlet was down, and Lemuel Boulware issued a response. He saw a great gulf between the political ambitions of union officials and the economic interests of their members. This was a crucial contest, with our free market and our free persons at stake. But before battle could be joined, every citizen had to go back to school on economics individually to learn from simple text books to study until we understand our democracy and our free market system. In his call to arms, Boulware was describing what became the education of Ronald Reagan.
Boulware believed in going over the heads of the union leaders directly to the employees. He did this primarily through four publications and a series of book clubs. He also created a new position, Employee Relations Manager, and 3,000 of them joined with 12,000 supervisors to bring the companys message home. The ERMs used skills that the company had developed in the manufacture and sale of its products to win the hearts and minds of its workers. Boulware called this job marketing.
Two of the publications that emanated from Boulwares operation were distributed weekly: one went into the local plant papers, side by side with bowling league results and coverage of the Miss GE competition, designed for consumption by GEs blue collar workers; the other weekly was a newsletter to GE supervisors and to local thought leaders, who could influence municipal and state elections. A slick monthly magazine often tied Reagans GE Theater news to ideological messages. And a defense quarterly, featuring GEs efforts in the field, was enhanced by commentary from leading experts (e.g. well-known academics and occasional Cabinet officials) on military and geopolitical matters. The evidence is compelling that Reagan read all of these. The frequent question periods after his talks with GE workers insured that he would be asked about them. They influenced his foreign policy as well as his domestic views. An article in the defense quarterly presaged the Reagan Doctrine and contains the earliest mention of what later became the strategic defense initiative.
The subject matter of the publications ranged from narrow employment issues (How Big Are General Electric Profits Are They Too Big? Why the company can expect union officials to demand a strike from them) to broader economic concerns (Lets Learn from Britain--which concerned the failures of socialism and a government-run medical profession--and What is Communism? What is Capitalism? What is the Difference to You?). The folly of many government programs and the negative consequences of burdensome taxation were frequent topics. The book clubs of employees and their spouses spent thirteen weeks discussing Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt or How You Really Earn Your Living by Lewis Haney and other conservative offerings.
In time, Lemuel Boulware and GE CEO Ralph Cordiner mounted a national grass roots campaign, recruiting major corporate allies, creating schools where GE employees and others could learn the fundamental political skills to win elections, developing shareholder lists for political mailings, and turning GE workers into communicators and mass communicators (Boulwares words) who could spread the message of free persons and free markets to a decisive number of local voters. In the course of this Ronald Reagan was taken out of the plants and put on what he called the mashed potato circuit of civic forums largely in the south and smaller states, often towns where GE dominated the economy, where he would be most effective. In due course, the great communicator was born. In todays parlance, most of these states turned from blue to red.
Ronald Reagan developed a vision of America during his GE years. He learned to reduce his views to a few simple precepts and, as he entered politics, he went over the heads of party leaders, using the banquet circuit and television to present his powerful message. Opposition leaders often responded by coming to him to stop the flow of questions from their constituents. This was done between elections. When legislation was called for (e.g. California welfare reform and federal tax reform, both of which were revolutionary in scope), Reagan utilized his considerable negotiating skills -- honed as he observed Boulware and at the bargaining table over the Screen Actors contracts as he later did with Mikhail Gorbachev in four dramatic summits.
It is impossible to set out in this short article the evolution and the entirety of Ronald Reagans development as a conservative and a politician during the years that he worked for General Electric. His methods of absorbing massive amounts of material, of writing and delivering his speeches, were unique. Perhaps the most persuasive statements confirming his education during his General Electric years come from the Reagans themselves. In her autobiography, Nancy Reagan wrote that If you believe, as Ronnie does, that everything happens for a purpose, then certainly there was a hidden purpose in Ronnies job for General Electric.
Reagan referred to his GE years as his post-graduate education in political science and observed that it wasnt a bad apprenticeship for someone whod someday enter public life. He spoke of his self-conversion during these years, and that he ended up preaching sermons about his strongly-held beliefs. His speechwriters at the White House frequently admitted using the speeches of the GE years as the basis of their own efforts. The fact that he achieved so much of what he advanced as his goals, confirms the merit of his ideas. But it also testifies to the effectiveness of lessons he learned about how to turn his vision into political majorities and governmental acts.
The GE years provide an insight, to borrow Bill Safires phrase, as to what made Reagan Reagan. The question remains whether the political landscape today affords an opportunity to achieve a revolution and whether there is anyone on the scene to lead it.
Newt said he discussed communication with Ronald Reagan in 1974 but after reading : The General Electric Years and the Untold Story of his Conversion to Conservatism in 2008, it changed his understanding of what Reagan did -- basically that you show the people the light and they put the heat on their elected leaders.
I miss President Reagan. Of course today, like many other corporations, GE is a pro-socialist organization now !
Thanks very much, Cincinatus’ Wife!
This is gold!
After reading this summary of the book, plug that into today’s situation with unions and Obama and imagine Gingrich using Reagan’s methods in the general election.
Then think about how Newt will have the ear of the voters and how he will rally them to pressure Congress.
I’m glad you see it too.
It’s pure gold and lays out the path forward.
Ironic that GE and Reagan are associated in the article, considering the extent that GE is now just another arm of the government now.
Yeah and that’s sad. President Reagan would be sad and maaaaad.
If you've ever wished you knew more about economics but didn't know where to start, Economics In One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt would be worth your time and money. It's very clearly written for the layman and is a two or three hour, very informative read.
It was the first book on economics I ever read and I still like to pick it up from time to time. It's excellent.
Hazlitt’s is an excellent book and worth having in anyone’s library.
I bought the GE book several years ago and can recommend it as a good read.
BookMark and BTTT!
May God give us strength, because there is no margin for error.
But the way is clear.
“Of course today, like many other corporations, GE is a pro-socialist organization now !”
This information should be shared widely this week.
On another aspect of the Reagan - Gingrich connection, hopefully, the unveiling of the video of Nancy Reagan's words might reveal Romney's misleading comments about Gingrich's links to Reagan and the conservative cause of that era.
Voters might ask, where were Romney's efforts in the conservative victories during those years. When Brian Williams asked about any such efforts, Romney seemed to think that raising a family and starting a business career in a "consulting firm" qualified as contributing to the "conservative movement."
In the meantime, during those same years, other business men and women were spending their dollars and their time out there warning citizens that if they didn't rein in their elected representatives in government and return to constitutional principles, the free enterprise system which allowed them the freedom to "raise a family" and "work in the private sector" might disappear from the earth.
Working in what Romney calls "the private sector" and working to preserve the Founders' "freedom of individual enterprise" principle which underlies all the other freedoms Americans enjoy.
Romney has done the first: Gingrich has done the latter.
"Working in what Romney calls "the private sector" and working to preserve the Founders' "freedom of individual enterprise" principle which underlies all the other freedoms Americans enjoy are two very different things."
“”But the way is clear.””
Agreed, small smile, but isn’t it always? Sometimes we just can’t seem to make folks see/take it. Matthew 7:13
Which is, of course, where He comes in. An even quieter smile.
Please, guide our path, Lord.
bookmarking for later